Zombies have long made their way into popular culture and show creators who wish to pick up on the subject run the risk of boring audiences with yet another horror series about the dread of the undead. Victor Fresco, the showrunner of “Santa Clarita Diet”, chose to go another path by creating a twisted comedy that picks up on critique of modern suburbia intermingled with gory zombieism.

The release of the first “Santa Clarita Diet” teaser left many viewers puzzled and raised more questions than it answered. Apart from being baffled by the dazzling cast that includes movie star Drew Barrymore, viewers are also left in the dark about the overall genre and theme of the show. The teaser first seems to sing the virtues of one of those modern diets any stereotypical middle-class suburban wife and mother might wish to try out, when a sudden dark twist is added, as the diet requires eating ‘whoever you want’. The stark contrast between suburban everyday-life and gory cannibalism is what makes this Netflix Original so unique.

Netflix releases original horror comedy series "Santa Clarita Diet" / Copyright: Netflix, Inc.

Netflix built the promotional campaign for “Santa Clarita Diet”, on this odd interplay of comedy and horror and promoted the unusual diet of main character Sheila Hammond as a “real” diet that will leave people feeling more alive and energetic, just as the suburban mother and wife feels after turning into a zombie. The show was released worldwide on February 3, 2017.

Netflix kicked off the promotional engagement activations by creating dedicated social media accounts in late December 2016. The first post was uploaded on New Year’s Eve and gave users the first quirky hints about the show’s genre by letting the phrase ‘Let’s kill 2017’ seem more literal than idiomatic.

Exploring the fitness and diet website reveals the promotional strategy / Copyright: Netflix, Inc.

And just in time for the worldwide frenzy about New Year’s resolutions Netflix launched a website that promotes the effective but unusual Santa Clarita Diet, a diet that follows a simple plan and promises success. The website is set up like an usual motivational fitness and diet website and offers step-by-step instructions, individual success stories by testimonials and an inspiring Instagram feed. But as the success of the diet relies on eating human flesh, the dark twist the show is based on is already implied.



Selected Instagram influencers test the Santa Clarita Diet / Copyright: @tortillaa / @miolosfritos / @daddy_crawf / @violetbens0n / Netflix, Inc. / @oliamajd

To demonstrate the merits of the new “diet” Netflix cooperated with selected Instagram influencers who promoted the Santa Clarita Diet on their Instagram profiles. All of the male and female influencers were lifestyle, fashion, fitness and beauty bloggers, with some of them having up to 3.2m followers and also operating YouTube channels. They all posted one or several pictures that showed them posing with cups and protein powder containers that had the “Santa Clarita Diet” logo imprinted. The posts were shared beginning of January 2017 and many of the captions were motivational phrases that claimed, for example, that the diet is the perfect way to get in shape for the new year.

For further testimony, Netflix also teamed up with BuzzFeed to raise attention. Among other series-themed custom content, BuzzFeed released a sponsored article in which a group of BuzzFeed staff members share their experiences of allegedly trying the Santa Clarita Diet. The article, which was released on January 25 by Justin Thomas, a member of BuzzFeed’s Ad Team, provides fans with alleged testimonial of the fake diet and is a creative way of creating buzz.

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod praise the Santa Clarita Diet in their sports clip / Copyright: Netflix Inc.

Another ad campaign that sang the virtues of the new “Santa Clarita Diet”-lifestyle was the promotional video clip ‘BodyBreak: Santa Clarita Diet Demo’ starring Canada’s most famous fitness gurus Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod. Netflix Canada chose Johnson and McLeod’s BodyBreak sports clip classics as template for the promotional clip, which was shared shortly after the release. The two-minute clip is once again a self-ironical parody in which a social media influencer falls victim to the show’s diet.



Food truck in Camden surprises passersby with free series-themed meals / Copyright: @YahooMoviesUK / @Organic_Film

After fans had now heard a lot about the new alleged diet, Netflix gave them a chance to test the “diet” themselves. Some lucky citizens of Camden in the UK had a chance to get a taste of the Santa Clarita Diet two days prior to the series release. Netflix UK and British communications agency Organic set up a food truck with series-themed meals that were handed out to passersby for free. The ‘Cravings Satisfier’ handed out thyroid nuggets, brain burgers, finger dogs and blood shakes.

But also fans living in California were able to test the diet when Netflix US joined forces with food delivery service DoorDash and the Californian sushi restaurant Mainland Poke. From February 4 on, fans were able to receive series-themed meals with “human” ingredients from the sushi restaurant when they ordered from one of three participating locations via DoorDash. Using the code CLARITA also got them free delivery.

'Santa Clarita Diet Packages' were sent out to TV enthusiasts in the US / Copyright: @ShowPatrol

Some lucky TV bloggers and journalists didn’t even have to actively engage in any activations in order to give the special diet a try, as Netflix sent out ‘Santa Clarita Diet Packages’ in the US. The packages were designed to look like an actual ad for the diet, highlighting all the pros of adapting the new lifestyle. Inside the packages, which were sent out prior to the release of the series, recipients found a shaker for ‘blood, brains, tissue, guts and plasma’ and a “human” finger that was branded as an energy bar.

By incorporating the show’s unique combination of genres and integrating its dark humor in their strategic engagement campaigns, Netflix has successfully managed to create buzz for the “Santa Clarita Diet”, leaving viewers puzzled but also hungry for more.

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